Jordan Gilbert was born in the small town of Chickasha, Oklahoma, where he spent the first 18 years of his life. He recently graduated with an MFA in poetry from the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond, Oklahoma and now resides in Yukon. His work has appeared in The Orange Room Review and T(OUR) Literary Magazine, and is forthcoming in Conclave: A Journal of Character.
In this interview with editor Dariel Suarez, Jordan talks about his writing process, about the role of poets in society, and about the feeling of being "other".
Dariel Suarez: Could you tell us a bit about what first inspired you to write poetry? What writers would you say are your main influences?
Jordan Gilbert: I’ve always had fascination with language. I first started writing poetry in middle school, but I didn’t begin to think of myself as a poet until the first year of my undergraduate. I write largely from memories and personal experiences, so much of my poetry is autobiographical, bordering on a lyric memoir.
The writers who have most impacted my own work are Sharon Olds, Kimiko Hahn, Natasha Trethewey, and Toni Morrison.
DS: What led you to write the poems featured in Middle Gray? How would you describe your writing process, from getting an idea to completing a final draft?
JG: “Homo sapien homosexualis” is a reflection the way that gay culture is perceived by outsiders, as well as on what I’ve felt within the gay community. Since I grew up in the South and in a Baptist family, I was always taught that being gay was a sin. This poem is an attempt to portray the feeling of being “Other.” “Things Nanny Taught Me” is in homage of my grandmother. She always had words of wisdom to give in times of need. I wanted to capture the beauty and complexity of those words, as well as to illustrate both the power of language, as well as the transience of life.
My writing process is, like I imagine most writers to be, a work in progress. I have days where I get what I deem a brilliant idea, and I start writing. Before I know it, I’ve created a full poem. I have to let the poem rest at that point, give myself enough space between birthing the piece and revising it. I’ll come back to it, maybe a day or two later, and then start playing with sounds, tightening my lines, clarifying images. Eventually, after reading the poem enough times and removing a few articles here and there, the poem gets to a final draft stage.
DS: Can you describe your experience as an MFA student? What advice would you give to those who are considering applying to MFA programs?
JG: The time I spent working on my MFA was a great experience. Perhaps the most beneficial part was being forced to write. In order to get the end product of your MFA, your thesis, you have to write regularly. You always have to be thinking about your poems, what edits you need to make, what you need to be reading. When I started working an 8-5 job, I found myself not having nearly the amount of time for reading and writing that I had previously.
Go for it. If you enjoy writing and want to get better, try an MFA. If you don’t have enough time to write or have trouble making time, sign up for a few classes. You’ll find yourself surrounded by other writers, which will inspire you and challenge you to become even better at your craft.
DS: What role do you believe poets play in today’ society?
JG: The role of the poet is the same as I think it’s been since the birth of language: to challenge people to think, to imagine, and to become more fully human.
DS: How have your background and upbringing influenced your work?
JG: Since much of my poetry is based on memories or personal experience, my background and upbringing are my work. I write from the perspectives of male, homosexual, white, Southern, Baptist. My writing centers on the tension of the intersection between all of these pieces.
DS: What goals do you have regarding your writing? Are you working on any book-length projects?
JG: I would like to get a full-length chapbook or manuscript published in the near future. If possible, I want to turn my master’s thesis into my first book.